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City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito Adds Friends and Foes to Leadership Team

By Colby Hamilton | January 22, 2014 4:41pm | Updated on January 22, 2014 5:08pm
 Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito standing with her colleagues after the council leadership and committee assignment process on January 22, 2014.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito standing with her colleagues after the council leadership and committee assignment process on January 22, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

CIVIC CENTER — Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled the City Council’s new leadership team and committee assignments Tuesday, rewarding her allies in the battle to become speaker with plum assignments, while leaving a few seats on her team for former opponent, Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick, as well as some of his former backers.

At a meeting of the committee tasked with doling out the assignments, Mark-Viverito said the assignments “reflected the true diversity of New York City.”

“In the years and the months to come, I look forward very much to working in partnership with each and every one of you,” Mark-Viverito said.

The new speaker’s leadership team represented a departure from precedent. Rather than utilizing a traditional hierarchy, Mark-Viverito put together a leadership committee.

Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer — a key ally who broke with the Garodnick-supporting Queens county Democratic Party organization to support Mark-Viverito — was selected as majority leader. Seven other members, including Garodnick and Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, who chairs the council’s powerful Progressive Caucus with Mark-Viverito, were appointed deputy leaders.

Garodnick was also handed the chairmanship of the Economic Development committee, while Lander stayed at the head of the Rules committee, which is charged with the officially proposing the committee assignments.

The two posts that are generally considered the top chairman assignments went to other key Mark-Viverito allies. Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who split with her county organization to back Mark-Viverito during the speaker battle, was appointed the head of the Finance Committee, while David Greenfield of Brooklyn was handed the chairmanship of Land Use.

Both Ferreras and Greenfield received $15,000 bumps in their salaries for chairing the committees. Other committee chairs received an $8,000 bonus to their salaries.

A number of freshman council members who stuck by Mark-Viverito were also rewarded for their loyalty. Newly elected Councilman Richie Torres of the Bronx, who also split with his county’s Democratic Party leadership to support Mark-Viverito, was appointed a Deputy Leader.

Brooklyn Councilman Raphael Espinal, Jr., who with the rest of the Brooklyn delegation sealed the selection of Mark-Viverito as Speaker, was awarded the chair of the Community Affairs committee. Another freshman Brooklyn Councilman, Carlos Menchaca, was tapped to be chair of the Immigration committee.

Some of Mark-Viverito’s former foes were included in the fold, such as former Garodnick backer Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who was handed the chair of community development, and Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, who spoke openly of his lack of support for Mark-Viverito, who was given the Juvenile Justice committe chairmanship.

But she wielded her power over some critics including returning Bronx Councilwoman Annabel Palma, a one-time speaker candidate who received no chairmanship after vocally backing her county’s support of Garodnick. Freshman Rory Lancman of Queens, who did not back Mark-Viverito, similarly saw no leadership position.

Bronx Councilwomen Palma and del Carmen Arroyo were the lone council members to vote against the committee assignments.

At a press conference after the hearing, Mark-Viverito brushed aside concerns over the decision.

“This is a process and we’ve been very deliberative,” Mark-Viverito said. “I spoke to all of my colleagues over the course of time to find out any issues and concerns. I believe I came to a decision [on leadership and committee posts] that would truly reflect the work we have ahead of us.”

While Mark-Viverito has touted her historic rise to be the first Latina at the helm of the council, a number of council members expressed their concern over the lack of African Americans inside top positions. Councilmembers Williams, Inez Barron of Brooklyn, Ruben Wills of Queens, and Inez Dickens of Manhattan — all African American members of the council — spoke about their concerns.

Williams is the only African American with a majority leadership position. Of the 37 committees, African Americans hold 10 chairs in the new council and make up just over 25 percent of the council body.

The first official bill presented to the council during Wednesday's session was the introduction, at the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio and carried in the council by Manhattan Councilwoman Margaret Chin, of a significant expansion of the city’s paid sick leave legislation.

While Mark-Viverto won her battle for the speakership in large because of de Blasio's support. When asked after the hearing what level of influence or input the mayor had in deciding committee chairs, Mark-Viverito said the decision was hers.

"The buck stops with me," she said.